Background: Beta-blockers and amiodarone reduce the frequency of atrial fibrillation after open-heart surgery but the effectiveness of oral amiodarone in older patients already receiving beta-blockers is unknown. We have assessed the efficacy of oral amiodarone in preventing atrial fibrillation in patients aged 60 years or older undergoing open-heart surgery.
Methods: We did a randomised, double-blind placebo-controlled trial in which patients undergoing open-heart surgery (n=220, average age 73 years) received amiodarone (n=120) or placebo (n=100). Patients enrolled less than 5 days before surgery received 6 g of amiodarone or placebo over 6 days beginning on preoperative day 1. Patients enrolled at least 5 days before surgery received 7 g over 10 days beginning on preoperative day 5.
Findings: Patients on amiodarone had a lower frequency of any atrial fibrillation (22.5% vs 38.0%; p=0.01; absolute difference 15.5% [95% CI 3.4-27.6%]), and there were significant differences in favour of the active drug for symptomatic atrial fibrillation (4.2% vs 18.0%, p=0.001), cerebrovascular accident (1.7% vs 7.0%, p=0.04), and postoperative ventricular tachycardia (1.7% vs 7.0%, p=0.04). Beta-blocker use (87.5% amiodarone vs 91.0% placebo), nausea (26.7% vs 16.0%), 30-day mortality (3.3% vs 4.0%), symptomatic bradycardia (7.5% vs 7.0%), and hypotension (14.2% vs 10.0%) were similar.
Interpretation: Oral amiodarone prophylaxis in combination with beta-blockers prevents atrial fibrillation and symptomatic fibrillation and reduces the risk of cerebrovascular accidents and ventricular tachycardia.